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11.9. Word Of Mouth
Word-of-mouth is probably the most powerful communication medium in existence and can be used by marketers to good effect. The reasons for the power of word-of-mouth are as follows:
- It is interactive, involving a discussion between the parties. This forces the recipient to think about the communication. The problem for marketers is that the interaction takes place between parties who are not usually under the control of the firm.
- It allows for feedback and confirmation of the messages.
- The source, being a disinterested friend or acquaintance, carries a lot more credibility than any marketer-generated communications.
People often discuss products and services; they like to talk about their own recent purchases, to advise people considering a purchase, to show friends and family their latest acquisitions, and even to discuss controversial or interesting marketing communications. The problem for marketers is that people will talk about products and companies whether the firm likes it or not, and there is very little that firms can do to control the process. Word-of-mouth communications can therefore be positive or negative, and it often appears that bad news travels twice as fast as good news, so that much word-of-mouth is negative.
Following are some of the ways marketers can increase positive word-of-mouth.
- Press releases A press release with a good, newsworthy story will usually stimulate discussion, particularly if it is linked to another promotion. For example, a press release announcing a sports competition for school squash players will generate word-ofmouth among squash players.
- Bring-a-friend schemes In these schemes an existing customer is invited to recruit a friend in exchange for a small reward. In some cases, the reward is given to the friend rather than to the introducer – some people feel uncomfortable about accepting a reward for ‘selling’ to a friend.
- Awards and certificates Trophies and certificates are sometimes displayed, and often talked about
- T-shirts Promotional clothing often excites comment from friends: designer labels, names of bands, names of tourist destinations, and names of concert venues all provoke comment from friends and acquaintances.
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Part of the problem for the marketer lies in identifying the opinion leaders in a given market. Journalists, influential individuals and organisations in industry, and some prominent TV pundits are obviously easy to identify, but among the general public it usually takes careful research to identify the people who are likely to be opinion leaders regarding a particular product.
Much word-of-mouth communication is, unfortunately, negative. Some authorities state that dissatisfied customers tell three times as many people about the product than do satisfied customers; if true, this means that preventing negative word-of-mouth is actually a more pressing problem for marketers than is generating positive word-of-mouth. Complaint-handling is therefore a key issue.
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